The Black Saint knows that he doesn’t need to tell any of you who Tony Todd is. He has been a genre stalwart for years on both the big screen and on television. He also shows no signs of letting up anytime soon! His latest film “Final Destination 5″ is opening nationwide tomorrow and he was kind enough to speak with me for a bit about how he got into acting & where he wants to take his career eventually. It was a fascinating conversation and the man is nothing but a complete gentleman. I hope you enjoy reading it!
HN: I want to start things off with this question for you. In terms of acting, was this what you always wanted to do?
TT: As far back as I was a conscious teenager. I discovered it in high school and it was through the generosity of my English teacher. I was being raised by a single woman who always put me into different programs in the summer so I could find an interest that was non street related in order to touch my imagination. We were both rescued when this English teacher gave me a script to read. It was Shakespeare’s “Tempest” and it was just fascinating. I was always a reader but to be able to read something that you could actually act out yourself was a diamond. And then she encouraged me to try out for a play, which I did but I didn’t get. But I worked backstage until I could try out for a role in the next play, which I got. I’ll never forget walking out in front of my high school peers, it was at one of those 2:30 in the afternoon assemblies in which the auditorium was full because no one wanted to study and it was awesome, just an awesome experience. I guess you could liken it to a junkie taking their first hit. You just want to feel that sensation forever.
HN: Did you ever..
TT: (Apologetically) I suppose that was a bad analogy but coming from the street…that was my “Crack”. I mean that in a positive way because I think that’s one of the problems in this country. People turning “Positives” into “Negatives” every chance they get & not giving others a chance to “Shine their light”. I was given a chance to shine my light early.
HN: I understand completely. Did you continue to study acting through college?
TT: Yes. I enrolled in the University Of Connecticut but I dropped out early because they were more inclined by musical theater and it was the first time that I was exposed to that type of theater and I wondered “Is everybody in theater gay or what”? I knew this couldn’t be the truth because I had done some research on my own and at the time the black theater movement was growing. I was reading things like “The Electronic Nigger” by Bullins and “No Place To Be Somebody” by Gordone. So I knew that what they were selling at the University wasn’t the whole truth. So I ended up in the dropout scene for a minute as the Black Panthers were coming into prominence and doing political theater. In the Connecticut area we didn’t have the necessary labor skills but we were doing street theater.
HN: Were you a part of the Black Panther movement in the late 60’s?
TT: No. I was on the periphery. I wasn’t dedicated enough to make a complete change in that direction but I was certainly aware of the Black Panther library & hung out there. It was a great time to be a young artist because the civil rights movement had really taken hold and I was fairly bright. So that’s when I stopped eating Pork which I continue to avoid eating to this day. And I just did a lot of underground stuff like Sam Shepard. I actually hung out & used the facilities at the University Of Connecticut even though I wasn’t a student anymore. I guess I was in and out so much that the professors turned a blind eye and let me use them, I was actually performing in plays that were sanctioned by the University without really checking if I was a registered student. This went on for a couple of years and then I started having some doubts about my career because I had a lot of cops in my family and every Thanksgiving they kept telling me how they could get me in. So every Thanksgiving I had to hear about what it was to be, quote/unquote, a man and a productive member of society. But finally I got a break and I enrolled in the Eugene O’Neill theater center in Waterford and it was there that my life really changed.
TT: I have a half brother who is ten years younger than me. Actually he’s out here with me now & when I have a gig that’s away I make an effort to bring him along with me. He’s a singer actually and a member of the Los Angeles Church which is one of the biggest christian churches in the country.
HN: You have me wondering now about you & musical theater. Since you have such a deep, rich voice, Can you sing?
TT: Well don’t get me wrong, I love music. I just bought five L.P.’s last week. If I could do it again & I had a voice like his I would be Sam Cooke. But that’s not the way it played out. But I am a music freak, I have over 20,000 songs on my iTunes. I love every type of music from jazz to country to classic R&B.
HN: You sound a lot like me in that respect. I have over 4000 l.P’s, 2500 CD’s…
TT: I bet you could look at any one of then and remember where you were when you first heard them.
HN: EXACTLY! I tried to explain that to my wife but she doesn’t get it.
TT: Well nowadays people just download their music, not remembering when/where they got it. For me going to a shop that sells used vinyl & finding something that you’ve been looking for is the way to go.
HN: I used to work at a shop called Colony Records here in NY. You ever heard of it?
TT: Colony Records? The place where they sold all the sheet music? Yeah, I know that place. You worked there?
HN: Yeah, in the late 80’s through 96′. It was the place to buy old vinyl at the time.
TT: It was near a bookstore…
HN: Coliseum Books.
TT: Yeah, that’s the place! I could camp out in that store..
HN: I actually would go there on my breaks from Colony to read books. I spent a fortune in that place. I always gravitated to the film section to read reference books. But it’s been closed for a few years now.
TT: Really? It’s closed? That’s too bad, they had a great film section! We have a great bookstore out here called the “Iliad”. It’s an “Old School” bookstore. When you walk in you get that smell of paper & binders that’s unmistakable.
HN: Let’s talk a little bit more about your voice. I was going over your bio & I never knew that you had voiced so many animated characters!
TT: Well that depends on who you ask. I know some people who just do cartoon voices and their bios have over a hundred credits on them. I tell you, voice over is one of the hardest jobs to break into and more and more actors are reaching out for it. It’s a very tight circle so I’m proud of everything that I’ve managed to pry away from them.
HN: Among your voice over credits I noticed you performed the voice of Darkseid for the “DC Universe” video game and I thought that your voice was perfect for that role. I also noticed that you did some work on “Pokemon”.
TT: Yeah, the “Pokemon” thing is not true. Somebody put that sh*t up as a joke!
HN: IMDB says you performed as a character called “Rhyperior”.
TT: It’s not true. It’s definitely not true!
HN: I want to ask you about a movie you have said that you’ve done some of your best work in, “The Man From Earth”.
TT: I’m definitely proud of that one. I did some charity work with Robbie Bryan, one of the producers as well. It was a movie with a great script.
HN: It was an amazing script! I actually watched it twice because I wanted to catch every nuance in the script that I might have missed the first time around. Your character, Dan, was sort of like the “Voice Of Reason” in the film. Dan was willing to let John (Who claimed he was Jesus Christ), tell his story…
TT: I wanted to believe him. I wanted to believe in the possibilities.
HN: Would you as Tony Todd, not as Dan, listened to him?
TT: Me? I probably wouldn’t have sat there that long. There are things that I don’t need to know..
HN: My point exactly. I don’t think I would want to know that I was sitting in a room with Jesus Christ. I don’t think I could handle it.
TT: I think the fact that John takes us on that journey & then reneges at the last minute makes me think that it has to be true because there was no reason to put us through all of that.
HN: How long did it take to make that movie?
TT: It was shot in sequence in two weeks.
HN: It would make sense to shoot that script in sequence…
TT: We also had a week of rehearsal before we started shooting. Everybody in it came from the theater, so it was easy to film. You’d be surprised how many stage actors do a film and don’t know the basics of acting on film but we didn’t have a problem there. One thing to remember when you’re acting as a part of an ensemble is that you’re only as strong as your weakest link, so i usually show a little leniency when I’m faced with that type of situation.
HN: I recognized most of the faces in the cast except for the actor who played the lead role of John Oldman, David Lee Smith.
TT: He was a new one. I don’t know if he really wanted to act anymore after that. I tried to get him to do a theater piece with me afterwards & he said no because he “Didn’t like people enough”. I never understood that.
HN: Really? That’s a shame because he was excellent in the role.
TT: Some people act to work out some psychosis that they have. I’m not calling them crazy or anything but acting is a form of therapy sometimes.
HN: I’d like to ask you about the controversy behind “Hatchet 2″. As you know, it got pulled from theaters after two days. I saw it on a Saturday..
TT: You were lucky!
HN: Yes, I was! I remember reading an interview with Adam Green and he spoke of how the studio was going to stick with the movie despite it being released unrated. And all of a sudden it was gone! And you had such a major role in it. The character of Reverend Zombie was much more fleshed out than in the first “Hatchet”. Your death scene was among the most unique kills I’d ever seen. But how did you feel about it getting pulled from theaters so quickly & do you have any idea why?
TT: Well nobody liked what happened with the film theatrically. I think there were those who wanted the controversy. It’s one of the things you have to deal with when you’re growing up as a filmmaker. I have to be careful here because I never know when I’m going to be working with AMC again. Obviously somebody got scared because it was supposed to be around for one week. I think some people started reading some interviews about how violent the film was and didn’t want to be involved in any controversy.
HN: I was especially upset because about a month after “Hatchet 2″ was gone the remake of “I Spit On Your Grave’ was released and it hung around for a couple of weeks.
TT: Yeah, but it was rated.
HN: No, it was released unrated here in NYC.
TT: Really? OK…
HN: I saw it at a screening & I didn’t think it was any less violent than “Hatchet 2″. A bit more uncomfortable for sure but equally as violent in my opinion.
TT: Perhaps there was a bit of hyperbole when they spoke of “Hatchet 2″ being the first movie released unrated in a while…
HN: The last movie that I remember being released unrated was “Dawn Of The Dead” way back in 1979.
TT: Yeah but that was a big hit! I think some people “Talked” a lot and some people got nervous. Perhaps some people had a personal agenda against it.
HN: It’s too bad because it was such a fun movie for me to watch!
TT: Well the good thing is that “Hatchet 2″ will find it’s audience eventually. Or it’s audience will find it. I thought Danielle Harris did a great job in the film & I also became good friends with R.A. Mihailoff during production as well and the people of New Orleans were great to us also. I know Adam has stated that he wants to do something other than a horror movie for his next film, We’ll see. Sometimes you have plans & they just don’t work out the way you want them too. It doesn’t matter if he makes “H3″ or not because I know I wouldn’t be a part of it anyway!
HN: Yeah! You had a pretty spectacular death in it. It would be tough to bring you back for a third go round! I just thought it sucked because you had a very substantial part in the film & so few got to see it on a big screen.
TT: I didn’t take it personally. We shot that movie at the beginning of the year & it was released nine months to the day. The studio sent me to Chicago to do a lot of press for it. So there was an awareness factor. And we got to see it at it’s world premiere in London at Frightfest with 1800 fans as well. And it went over very well there.
HN: Do you know if there was a international release?
TT: Once it was pulled from theaters here, I didn’t track it. I’m not obsessed with it. It’s out of my hands. I didn’t have a vested interest in it other than my performance. Part of that is because Adam has gone on record saying that my performance in the film was the best performance of my career. I don’t agree with that although it’s a nice comment to make. Actually I find it slightly insulting. I know he meant well but it wasn’t the best performance I’ve given. And don’t get me wrong, I love horror and I love where making horror films has gotten me but theater is my first love. I don’t like being pigeonholed.
HN: I understand completely but you must admit that your role of Daniel Robitaille in “Candyman” put you on the map so to speak didn’t it?
TT: You know what? To this day I must be in denial because the movie came out in 92′ and I’m gonna tell you I didn’t get as much attention then as I’ve gotten in later years for it. I mean, I was aware that it was a studio film that opened well but it didn’t make me a household name. Nowadays…seventeen years later there are certain things that I like to do that I have to reschedule. Like going shopping after midnight.
TT: When I really want to be incognito nowadays I have to go unshaven for a few days, wear a hat, etc…but it’s still hard because of my size.
HN: That must really suck sometimes.
TT: It’s part of what it is. When you give your life up to public scrutiny that’s what you’re going to get. I’m OK with it because I have a good support system though and that gets me through it. But in terms of “Candyman” putting me on the map? Well, if the public says so but till the day i draw my last breath I’ll be looking for a role to will be the lead line to my obit. Not because I don’t like “Candyman” it’s just that I’ve heard it so much…
HN: Did you feel that way when you made the sequels?
TT: The sequels were more of a business decision you know? At that time it was the most that I’d ever been paid if anything. One of the reasons that it hasn’t been remade is because it’s owned by three different people who refuse to work with each other.
HN: Really? I didn’t know a remake was even in the works.
TT: I personally was trying to get it done about five years ago and i realized it wasn’t going to happen. Even now, there’s been rumors going round that it’s going to be remade with a White actor. They don’t know what they want to do…
HN: Oh no…it can’t be remade with a White actor (No offense intended), but the role belongs if not to you, then to another Black actor for sure.
TT: Well that was seriously being discussed for a while. But there’s something I know that they don’t know, there would be an immediate backlash because “Candyman” is very much part of the urban landscape. I can’t go to any hood in this country without total recognition from the people who live there. I try to use that because I do a lot of gang intervention stuff. So I use the recognition that I get to set up dialogues with gang members.
HN: You do a lot of this work where?
TT: In the Midwest/Southwest areas of the country.
HN: Did you run with a gang when you were younger?
TT: No, I was lucky. I was fortunate, I discovered theater and that became my gang. But being a big person & being someone who got out of the ghetto without using drugs or the narcotic pipeline I needed to go back to stand as an example of what can be done.
HN: That’s very commendable.
TT: It’s necessary. I have a teenage son as well so it’s necessary. I have a daughter in college & my son is a struggling musician.
HN: Let’s talk quickly about the latest “Final Destination” film. I thought that the franchise was ending on a high note with the fourth entry but here we are with the fifth. Is your part more substantial in the latest one?
TT: Yes it is but we’re under a gag order & I really can’t talk about it. But I was told on the last day of shooting that if the film opens at number one then we’re probably going to do six & seven simultaneously. All we have to do is open at number one! So everybody go see it!
HN: Is it harder working in 3D?
TT: You know it was my first experience working with 3D & it took three days to do two pages of the script because everything has to be just so….It’s a very meticulous process. Everything has to be in the right place for it to be effective, the lighting has to be just right as well.
HN: It sounds like a lot of work to be sure.
TT: Yeah but it’s all up there on the screen. The budget was somewhere in the $60 million dollar range. The audience will get their money’s worth!
HN: Did David Ellis direct this one as well?
TT: No, David Quale directed it. It’s his first directing project but he was 2nd unit director on the previous entry so he’s well versed in filming in 3D. Did you like the last one?
HN: I liked it a lot. I thought it was fun.
TT: A lot of people hated it!
HN: I’m not saying it was a bad movie but I sort of enjoy watching bad movies sometimes. I have a bad movie jones…
TT: The problem is that the filmmakers don’t know that they’re always making bad movies though!
HN: What can you tell us about “Eerie, Pennsylvania”? It’s listed on IMDB as your directorial debut.
TT: It’s my pet project and not a horror movie. It’s more of a “Midnight Cowboy” kind of thing. It deals with hustlers & such. It will be my “Transition” film.
HN: Well, thanks for your time Tony. You’ve been more than generous answering my questions. We will all see “Final Destination 5″ when it opens!
TT: Thank you!
As you can see, Tony Todd is a lot more than the Candyman. He is a actor who takes his craft seriously and also knows how to play the “Hollywood” game as well. In addition he’s also extremely generous with his free time & gives back to communities like the one he grew up in to show that there are other ways out of the ghetto besides drugs & crime. I’m glad he took the time he did to talk with me. In fact we spent a large amount of time during this interview talking about sports (He’s a big Basketball/Football fan), Our children & believe it or not video games (He’s a big gamer as well)! We spoke for a long while & he was nothing but a gentleman the whole time. Don’t forget to see “Final Destination 5″ this weekend acolytes! Until next time, dream darkly….
Interview: Tony Todd